Nerd TV

So, last week I was having a conversation with one of my favorite graduate students. Let’s call him Richard after the main character of the new HBO series Silicon Valley. As I was watching the series premiere, I texted him immediately to get his take on the show. After he declared it funny, I felt validated.

Richard will readily admit that he is a nerd. He’s great with computers – from concept to programming to design. He knows a lot about social media and how to market ideas. He’s into gaming and lots of other stuff I don’t even know enough about to enumerate here.

He’s great with a lot of things, but he’s not so great with The Big Bang Theory.

Now, I understand the show is retro and tired and subpar compared with Silicon Valley, but I still watch it. I’m happy Penny and Leonard are engaged finally. I smiled when Sheldon hugged Leonard. It’s nice to see Raj dating (and I think he may have had sex last week – that’s more surprising than the engagement).

But, a part of me is kind of waiting for the storylines to all wrap up with a series finale so I can move on to other things. I don’t want to give up on it, but I’m sort of bored.

After talking with Richard, I now feel a little guilty that I keep on keeping on (Curtis Mayfield is now taking over space in my brain) and allotting DVR space to the sitcom. I’m starting to get what he means when he says, “When will it end?”

While Silicon Valley has an aura of authenticity (Richard confirms this), The Big Bang Theory offers a veneer of “geek chic” in which people who don’t understand the culture use it as a springboard for formulaic, multi-camera situation comedy.

While noting that he is in no way diminishing the egregious past of blackface performers, such as Amos ‘n Andy, or suggesting that the caricatures of geeky characters can be equated with racism, Richard does admit that the term “nerdface” comes to mind when he thinks about The Big Bang Theory.

It’s no wonder that, according to Richard, The Big Bang Theory is widely hated by nerdy people even as it is embraced by the people who love nerds.

Richard told me a story about the time his mother got his the first season of the sitcom on DVD. He could see how his parents may have thought he would like it, but to him it was exploitative of those who are actually quirky, smart, and nerdy people.

Every time I see Rick Matthews, beloved Professor of Physics at Wake Forest University, I am struck by a story he told me once. (While I don’t remember many things I should recall, I generally recollect the offhand story, so be careful what you tell me!)

When the very first episode of The Big Bang Theory premiered, Rick’s daughter called him and said something to the effect of, “Dad, turn on the TV. There’s a show that you have it see. It’s the story of my whole life growing up.” Rick has been a fan ever since.

Now that I see The Big Bang Theory from Richard’s point of view, it’s hard for me to watch it, but since Rick is still a fan, I’m going to stick with it to the end just to see how things turn out.

Thankfully, I have Silicon Valley, a show both Richard and I can discuss together. And, if something comes along that I don’t understand in terms of the cultural context, I can ask him without feeling embarrassed.

The Big Bang Theory


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